Courage Under Fire (1996) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
127 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
A great Movie, Overlooked by too many
mjw230518 January 2005
This movie has 2 stories that that run side by side, depicting the same image of war from different perspectives.

Denzel's story is one of sadness and guilt over the death of a friend during the Gulf war, a friend that he himself killed in a 'Friendly Fire' incident, during the confusion of battle. His country won't let him speak, and they shower him with medals; this only adds to the pain that begins to tear him apart.

Denzel's Character is given an assignment to determine whether a female helicopter pilot (Meg Ryan) deserves the medal of honour.

Meg's story, played out in flashbacks, is about a helicopter pilot and her crew saving a handful of soldiers, from the Iraqi onslaught. She is the first female to be considered for the medal of honour, and the question is, does she deserve what the American people would so love too see her receive.

Denzel, determined to get this one right, collects evidence and testimony from Ryans crew and the men that were saved. The problem is, Denzel's superiors want this medal awarded, but the simple truth is difficult to unveil. Every shred of evidence leads to more and more uncertainty as to whether this medal should be awarded.

Truly compelling direction and very special character portrayal make this an extremely enjoyable, very dramatic movie.

If you've over looked it, then give it a try. I think you'll be glad you did.

95 out of 109 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Worth Watching
rmax30482327 July 2003
The story is a simple one. Washington is a Lt. Colonel responsible for some accidental deaths during a tank battle in the Gulf War. The experience leaves him feeling pretty lousy. He neglects his family and begins drinking. He's assigned to investigate the suitability of Meg Ryan as a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor. She was flying a medevac helicopter to a crash site when her aircraft was shot down by small arms fire and, apparently, she stayed behind voluntarily and ordered her crew to save themselves while she covered them. Washington interviews the crew members and gets different stories. In one story Ryan behaves heroically as described. In a second, she is a coward and collapses under fire. In yet a third, the truth emerges. Yeah, it's Rashomon, but not as original or subtle.

Still it's pretty good. And, Gott sei dank, it is not a story in which a woman proves herself as a good as a man, despite the fact that she is a member of the weaker sex. (What condescension.) Meg Ryan is a capable and courageous officer who happens to be a woman. Her sex is important to the politicians who are positively drooling over the prospect of awarding her the decoration, but isn't really important to the narrative.

The performances are better than I'd expected. Everyone, in fact, is quite good in their different ways. Matt Damon, in particular, gives a sensitive performance as a guilt-ridden medic, and looks the part, somewhat ascetic, his facial features askew with uncertainty. Meg Ryan doesn't have a chance to do more than shout orders with a Texas accent but she registers pain and determination well. Lou Diamond Phillips is perhaps the least articulated character, but that may be the fault of the role as written, which is fairly complex but a little obvious. Denzel Washington is the central figure. He's good as carrying that burden of guilt left over from his battlefield mistake but isn't too convincing as a drunk. In the end, he relieves himself of some of that torture by visiting the parents of one of the men he had killed and confessing his part in the incident. The first few times I saw this I kept thinking what some other actors would have done with this scene, but the last time I found his incarnate remorse rather moving.

There is one scene delicately shot, an uneasy exchange between the lying Damon and the perceptive Washington that's beautifully staged and acted, and another memorable first encounter between Washington and Phillips, in which both actors probe the edges of insubordination. Michael Dolan stands out in a featured bit part as a hospital orderly.

The battle scenes are well done, although a little confusing, as I'm sure they would have been at the time. Some generic conventions are adhered to. Four of our guys can slaughter dozens of them. The enemy runs headlong into a hail of bullets. But there are some interesting twists given to the situation. The Iraqis on the other side of the hill can be heard laughing at our boys (and our woman). And the ending is revisionist, but I won't go into it. Justice outs, let's say that.

It's a worthwhile watch for any number of reasons. Craftsmanlike if not poetic.
49 out of 59 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Method
UACW8 March 2000
America's sweetheart as a helicopter pilot? Most critics say she does an excellent job, but that's not what makes this movie so momentous. Neither is it the excellent performance by Denzel Washington, who had been expected by many to win an Oscar nomination for it. Nor is it the over the top performance of Matt Damon, nor is it the excellent contributions by any of the others in the cast. It's the way the story is told: throughout the movie you see the same sequence, over and over again, and each time you understand what is happening just a little bit more, until at the very end the import of it all hits you like a locomotive. It's a unique brand of story telling, and eminently successful.
28 out of 35 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Profound, intelligent, and moving; one of Zwick's best...
varundelpiero6 November 2008
Edward Zwick's second war-based movie (following the successful GLORY) is almost as good as his first, and every bit as watchable. I have particularly liked stories that use different viewpoints to tell the same story (hence creating different versions of the same story). These types of movies stemmed no doubt from Akira Kurosawa's epic RASHOMON, and while films that use this strategy rarely live up to Kurosawa's original in terms of intelligence and portrayal (the most recent being the slightly-better-than-mediocre VANTAGE POINT), COURAGE UNDER FIRE is still a rewarding Motion Picture.

Denzel Washington is near his brilliant best as the troubled Lieutenant Colonel on the verge of alcoholism due in part to his overwhelming feelings of guilt following a military procedure gone wrong. His depression and curiosity fuel his determination to get to the bottom of the 'mystery' even if it puts him out of favour with his Commanding Officers. Meg Ryan is equally superb, and as each re-telling of the story demands her to take on a different personality (similar to the female lead in RASHOMON), she manages to pull each one off effectively. Matt Damon puts in a reliable shift, even losing upward of 20 pounds to take on the role. For me, the biggest surprise is Lou Diamond Phillips who is actually quite watchable, and does not overact, as is his tendency.

Zwick's COURAGE UNDER FIRE is an examination of war from a less visceral point of view, and will stay with the viewer long after watching the movie. It deeply delves into themes of responsibility, guilt, and truth in an overall compelling Motion Picture. The script is effective and the buildup to the somewhat sentimental ending is quite commendable.

8/10. 3.5 stars (out of 4). Highly recommended. Should enter my Top 200 at around #183.
25 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
great multiple POV storytelling
SnoopyStyle15 November 2015
Lt Col Serling (Denzel Washington) leads a squad of tanks in the first Gulf War. He accidentally destroys one of his own tanks in a friendly fire incident. Washington Post reporter Tony Gartner (Scott Glenn) is after the story. Serling is relegated to a desk job. He's assigned to determine if medical helicopter pilot Cpt Karen Emma Walden (Meg Ryan) should be the first woman to receive a Medal of Honor for combat. The White House is very eager. However, there is more than one version of the incident which resulted in her death.

I love several things about this movie. Denzel is perfect as always. He needs to hold the center while having a compelling emotional story. Meg Ryan does the hardest acting of her career by bringing different versions of her character to life. Lou Diamond Phillips is great. Matt Damon is unrecognizable. It also has the Rashômon style of storytelling. I love that method. It feels more compelling than the straight forward way. It also feels more real with differing point of views.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Denzel Washington At His Best
degracia22 October 2000
"Courage Under Fire" is perhaps the best illustration of how flexible and adaptive actors like Denzel Washington are. What makes "Courage Under Fire" impressive is not so much its plot or storyline (which is somewhat inconsistent), but its portrayal of a lone officer torn between personal conscience and duty. Denzel's overweight build and alcoholic demeanor create the highly credible image of a man barely attached to his life. Basically the story of a budding Army officer re-assigned to administrative duties following a Desert Storm friendly fire incident, "Courage Under Fire" submerges the viewer into pure emotional hell as it progresses. The stunning emotional catharisis portrayed at the film's end is incredibly dramatic and almost entirely unmatched. Anyone who has ever been under the extreme pressures of stress or suffered cognitive dissonance following a bad judgement will definitely connect with this film. A great psychological thriller and a tour-de-force drama. Definitely one of the best films...if only it would be released on DVD!!
27 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
This movie helps heals me
sam935057 January 2012
I don't care about the petty "goofs" or parts of the story that other people point out- this movie means a lot to me as a disabled veteran with PTSD. This movie is about many things, but to me, the story is about how Col Sterling is trying to manage his survivor guilt and PTSD from his incident on one hand, and deal with his task to validate the medal for his General, his wife, his kids, etc. on the other. He resorts to booze (like we all do) to try to cope. That's what this movie is really about: how one guy is trying to come to grips with PTSD, which I can tell you first-hand is a challenge that I face every minute of everyday. And seeing this movie helps heal me. It reminds me that I too lost a promising career in the Navy, lost my marriage, lost my kids, and lost myself in the abyss of PTSD and alcoholism before I got help. That's the only negative I have on this movie- we don't see if Col Sterling got help. Otherwise, this movie has helped heal me in ways that no other movie I've ever seen has.
37 out of 48 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
bobafett-1626 April 1999
Courage Under Fire is a movie that will stay with me for a while. Denzel Washington continues to be one of the finest actors today and proves it in this movie. The premise was interesting and was entertaining. I was disappointed with Meg Ryan's performance. I usually like her but she got annoying with her constant shouting. Yet that didn't keep the movie down. It was extremely dramatic and my two favorite scenes are the scene with Lou Diamond Phillips in the car and when it shows what really happened. A great film and terrific acting by Denzel Washington.
25 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An average 'he said, she said' drama that has a better list of names involved than it deserved
bob the moo23 August 2004
Nat Serling returns from the Gulf war having been involved in a friendly fire incident. Even though he is cleared, he still carries the guilt but is looked after by the army and helped into a comfortable job in the Pentagon. He is assigned to assess the nomination of Captain Karen Walden for the medal of honour – an seemingly open and shut case that everyone wants to be passed for the public relations opportunity of awarding a woman captain the posthumous medal. However, when Serling starts to investigate he finds some minor differences in the stories and the more he pushes the survivors the more the story starts to fall apart. Despite the pressure from his superiors, Serling continues to dig for the truth.

Looking back at this film now it is perhaps a little frustrating how little it seems to critically analysis the issues behind war and politics and instead just plays it as a straight thriller with the Gulf only serving as a background and not as subtext. With this aspect put to one side the film just about manages to work as a thriller but not a particularly good one. The plot is very much 'he said, she said' stuff and it is not as dramatic as it would like to think it is. The film tries to inject pace into it with a series of extreme actions by the characters and the excitement of the battle sequences but really it doesn't amount to a terrible lot. The subplot over Serling's incident never really feels relevant and was either tacked on or badly handled to the point that it seemed tacked on. Either way the plot is not as involving as it really should have been – it does OK enough to make it worth watching once but it's no great shakes.

The cast is impressive though and contains many stars as well as faces that have become a lot more famous since this. Washington is troubled and interesting, even if he has to occasionally switch on the worry on request. He is a good leading man and has good presence; his delivery goes part of the way to helping inject a bit of urgency into some of the scenes in this rather talky film. Ryan was a strange choice but I suppose she was desperate to have something to show her range. While it is easy to dismiss her performance, she is OK but it would have been a lot better if her performance had changed more that it did between the few accounts – but I guess her range is not as wide as she would like to think it is. Outside of these two the main players are those in Walden's crew; Damon looks very young and does OK, Phillips is physically impressive but his character is difficult to totally swallow and Gilliam is a lot more understated than he was in Oz. The rest of the cast is populated by a large number of well-known faces including Taylor, Ivanek, Pinchot, Astin, Glenn, Thomas, McGill, Hall and Jenkins. Few of them have anything to do but their presence was rarely a distraction to me although I can imagine some viewers might be put off by the 'where do I know him from' factor.

Overall this is an average drama that is talky and relies on the actors to try and inject into a plot that is really just about the different characters trying to cover their own backs. The cast are mostly good but Ryan's reach exceeds her grasp and they are mostly let down by average material. Worth a watch once for what it is but I can't imagine too many viewers will be returning for a second look.
13 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A DESERT STORM-era update of "Rashomon"
philoso421 February 2005
A DESERT STORM veteran, Lt Col Nat Serling (played by Denzel Washington), is assigned the task of recommending whether or not to award the first (posthumous) combat Medal of Honor to a woman, Capt Karen Walden (played by Meg Ryan). In investigating the inconsistent mission accounts of Walden's surviving crew, Serling constantly flashes back to his own searing DESERT STORM experience and the Army's subsequent attempts to whitewash the incident, resolving that his investigation will not suffer the same fate. As Serling tries to rectify the competing competing accounts it becomes clear that director Edward Zwick has crafted a contemporary "Rashomon," complete with reminders that the truth is always subjective and our accounts of it typically affected by self-interest.
29 out of 35 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Not As Bad As It Could Have Been
Theo Robertson8 August 2004
After suffering a tragic incident during the 1991 gulf war Colonel Serling is asked to look into the case of Captain Walden a female helicopter pilot nominated for America`s highest decoration The Medal Of Honor

COURAGE UNDER FIRE is directed by Ed Zwick a director who tries so hard to direct an epic movie that he loses all focus for narrative . GLORY suffered from this to a certain extent as did his later movie THE SIEGE . LEGENDS OF THE FALL on the other hand collapsed under its own weight of sub stories that it left this viewer wondering what on earth was the main story . COURAGE UNDER FIRE could have suffered the same fate and I was suspicous as to where the story might have been heading . A tragic friendly fire incident features as does the traumatic and guilt ridden aftermath , a nosey journalist appears , then the story switches to the helicopter heroine . Should females serve on the front line ? Will she get the honour simply because she`s a woman ? With so many potential storylines for the film to follow the movie then decides to become centered around what actually happened to Captain Walden . I`m actually glad it became a simple " Whodunnit " plot because LEGENDS OF THE FALL SET IN THE DESERT isn`t my idea of a good movie

There`s only two things director Zwick should be criticised for , in fact one of them isn`t even his fault and that is the battle scene where the Iraqis surround the crashed helicopter , having watched BLACK HAWK DOWN several times I came to the conclusion the most awesome part of that movie is where the two Delta snipers Shughart and Gordon bravely but vainly try to stem the Somali hordes closing in on the Durrant crash site . Ironically this incident inspired the producers to make COURAGE UNDER FIRE but the battle scenes are very much weaker in comparison to Scott`s later movie despite being very similar , but let me repeat I saw COURAGE UNDER FIRE after seeing BLACK HAWK DOWN and most war movies would pale beside Ridley Scott`s action masterwork . The one thing Zwick should be blamed for is casting Meg Ryan . On screen the character of Walden is described as " Butch " and whatever you want to say about Meg Ryan " butch " is not an accurate adjective . Lyndie England now she is butch ...

As for the other aspects of the movie it`s cast well enough . Denzil Washington plays his usual good guy very well while a then fairly unknown Matt Damon is almost unrecognisable . Perhaps the most refreshing thing about COURAGE UNDER FIRE is that it`s apolitical which makes a nice change from Vietnam where we get polemical movies like THE GREEN BERETS and WE WERE SOLDIERS on one hand and PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW on the other . Wait till Hollywood starts making movies about Gulf War 2 , boy are we going to be getting some opinions on that war
14 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Solid war movie in the vein of "Rashomon"
BobbyT2410 August 2015
This is one of those war movies where you feel how difficult it is to be a soldier in the middle of a war zone with bravery, cowardice, confusion, orders, and emotional turmoil taking it's toll on the human psyche while yours and your fellow soldiers' lives are perilously hanging in the balance during the first Gulf War. Showing why he is such a classy military actor, Colonel Denzel Washington encapsulates the emotional baggage of being participant as commander of a tank battalion that pulled the trigger in a "friendly-fire" scenario that continues to haunt him when he gets stateside. The PTSD and media backlash has pushed him to near-alcoholism as he is reassigned to basically rubber-stamp the posthumous Medal of Honor intended for the first female to receive the award for heroics in wartime. What transpires, however, is anything but a slam-dunk for the war-worn commander.

There are two stories running simultaneously throughout the picture. The first - Denzel as commander of the tank battalion - is dark and understandably confusing. This lends itself to the realism and confusion of actual warfare where warriors are expected to determine friend vs. enemy at night while looking through infrared scopes while under intense fire. It is a daunting, and sometimes overwhelming, task to command.

The other story is of a heroic helicopter crew, led by Major Meg Ryan as the pilot, who goes down while trying to protect another downed chopper crew. Over the course of the next 24 hours, the heroes come to terms with who they are under intense enemy fire. What starts out as a clear-cut "give her the medal because the President and our government needs a female hero" turns into a genuine mystery as to whether the pilot truly deserves it or not.

There is very little difficulty separating the two stories. What becomes more complicated is how Denzel's character must overcome his own demons in order to objectively give America's most important wartime medal to a deserving/undeserving member of the service. Whether it would be the first female to be awarded this prestigious medal is irrelevant. It is right vs. wrong with a very important military mystery blocking Denzel's path to the easy path of just giving it to her.

This is a clever "did she/didn't she" narrative with sides changing their story at nearly every turn. Since there are so few witnesses under intense enemy fire, it's basically one soldier's word vs. another's - and who is telling the truth when one of them is dead. It also is the story of redemption for two very classy, honorable soldiers who deserve more from their country - and their other brothers in arms. Denzel has done this character before, which also makes him a perfect fit for the tortured commander who wants to do the right thing against the powers that be. Meg Ryan was surprisingly excellent at portraying a character who, through the stories changing multiple times, must be both heroic, cowardly, and still maintain dignity and honor in the face of overwhelming odds. It's fairly inspirational stuff.

This may not be the best war movie ever made. However, I believe it is definitely worth watching as a night's entertainment. I would place it on the same, well-done, stereotype-shattering heroic level as "Men of Honor". Well cast, well acted, and well done. 8 out of 10.
8 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
For the kind of film it is, it's not bad
Pookyiscute13 February 2006
At the beginning of the film, someone makes a reference to Meg Ryan's character as being "butch". I immediately thought, "Yeah right. Meg Ryan, butch?" Well, I was actually quite surprised with her performance, given the fact that she is a light romantic screen actress. Plus, she was once considered one of America's sweethearts, so it's hard to picture her in a role like this.

Denzel Washington, a Colonol in the Army, is investigating the death of an American soldier who died in the field, during the Iraqi war. Whether she deserves the medal of honor, which she has been nominated for, is the reason for the investigation. There are surviving members of her crew, and each one has a different version of the story, and what really happened the morning of her death.

The first twenty minutes of the film are slow, and a bit hard to pay attention to (or maybe that's just me and military movies), but once you get into the story, it picks up quite a bit, and becomes very interesting and worth the watch. I will probably never see this movie again, but it was entertaining enough that I was able to sit through the whole thing without being frustrated from boredom.

Denzel Washington was good, but nothing special. I suppose it might have been his character, given the fact that it was a pretty bland role. Lou Diamond Phillipes was probably the best actor in the whole film, and blew me away with his performance. I'm surprised he hasn't done as much since this film came out.

Again, Meg Ryan was good in this, but I wouldn't have chosen her for this part. I would have gone with someone a little more masculine to fill her character's shoes, perhaps someone like Jodie Foster.

It was a good drama, and if you want to see a really young and good looking Matt Damon, this is your chance. Other than that though, it's not worth that much. It's better than most action movies, but then again, there's not really that much action as there is story telling, which I enjoyed the most out of the whole film.
20 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Mistakes Were Made
gavin69428 June 2015
A United States Army officer (Denzel Washington), despondent about a deadly mistake he made, investigates a female chopper commander (Meg Ryan)'s worthiness for the Medal of Honor.

Let's talk about casting for a moment. Bronson Pinchot is an interesting casting choice, though his role is small enough that it really does not matter. Michael Moriarty is interesting, too, if for no other reason than his strong conservative beliefs. How a conservative and a liberal view this movie could be very different...

Lastly, Lou Diamond Phillips is incredible. He is probably most associated with "La Bamba", but that is probably selling him short. Here he has a great emotional range, and when he comes into the story, everything gets kicked up a notch.
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Powerful performance from Denzel (and a good one from Meg Ryan)
Quinoa19849 February 2021
Courage Under Fire is one of those hearty action melodramas, moralistic in a good way (as in, its thesis is that the cold-hard truth needs to be aired sometimes, for the good of the human spirit ultimately) and one that has something to say about not the military as a whole but a portion of the people who serve who are the best and worst it has yo offer. The Military may not be inherently mosogonyst (though I wouldn't be opposed to someone making that argument if it was persuasive enough), but good god does it attract some scumbags who can't stand a woman in a position of authority; it chews up and spits out those who want to just do their job well or at least competently, like the Ilario character; and for the Denzel Washington protagonist, those around him who cover-up to maintain the status quo, or just a good photo-op, is de rigeur. Heroism in this environment could almost be called accidental if it weren't for good luck and ingenuity.

I'm not saying too many will agree with me on that, but that was something I saw in dramatic play here, that beneath the Rashomon storytelling and the staggering moments of bravado and vulnerability that Washington shows in this very good even dare I say underrated performance, this is a film about how acts of war *should* be traumatizing, that they leave behind emotional scars as well as physical ones, and that who was doing what and where matters but it's more about the cost to the soul.

Through all the conventional beats or dialog, like with the Michael Moriarty superior officer - and one or two WHOA moments (one involving the Lou Diamond Phillips character about two third of the way in) - the pathos here is tight and when Zwick and company follow that the movie has a strong core to it. Even scenes that should feel stock, like those with the Denzel character's wife, carry emotional punch and are directed and acted with sensitivity and pull.

I know what Mark Kermode had to say about Meg Ryan's casting, that it took him out of the movie so severely that he couldn't recover. I think that criticism may be overstating it, and in fact I found Ryan gives as good a performance as she can (yes, even with the accent). The problem is that the character, ironically enough, is the least interesting aspect of the movie. It's like when you see a Captain America (solo) movie, and the success or lack thereof comes down to who is surrounding the hero and raising the stakes.

Almost by design she is more of a story device than a fully rounded person, and I'm not sure if longer screen time would have helped so much. In other words, the writing is more the issue with her than the actual acting, albeit there is the point about her being a major star in a role that, mayhap, another up and comer could have brought and breathed to life (like Matt Damon, who literally broke through as, ahem, Meth Damon before Jesse Plemmons, thank you Ill be here all week, but seriously this is a titanic acting performance that got him in the door with Coppola and Spielberg). It's not bad but it is slightly a wasted opportunity.

But if you come to Courage Under Fire for Washington, it's an essential performance that is carefully considered and thought out and had that through line like in Flight; this is a broken man who needs to find a way to redemption, or at least a way to sleep at night, and the story only works inasmuch as his character's journey and performance does. It's a strong drama about Military might gone awry in just one small tale and the uncovering of facts vs myth and other fictions. It's like an episode of the podcast You're Wrong About visualized by Roger Deakins - it's only a letdown in that it isn't a great movie, and just very good.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A great film, despite...
juneebuggy22 October 2014
Pretty great movie with an enthralling storyline which is made even more interesting because each member of "the crew" has a different version of what actually happened. Excellent performances here from Lou Diamond Phillips and a painfully (painfully) emaciated Matt Damon.

Denzel Washington plays a Lt Colonel reviewing a female soldiers (Meg Ryan) candidacy for the medal of honor. Ultimately his quest reveals conflicting versions of the story from her crew.

I have to say Meg Ryan was terrible in this, just painful to watch as Capt. Walden. The battle scenes also felt kinda cheesy (special effects wise) but this was still a great film, despite its flaws. 05.13
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Objective unclear
paul2001sw-15 August 2004
Soldiers do terrible things (in all senses of that word), nominally in the name of all of us. If one soldier, who has not committed any atrocities, dies in combat but is given a technically undeserved honour, does it really matter? In Edward Zwick's curious film, 'Courage Under Fire', we have to believe it does, as Denzel Washington's Colonel investigates whether an award should be given to Meg Ryan's deceased pilot after the first Gulf war. It's all rather dull, and although he eventually (and predictably) unearths a shocking truth, there's little in his early inquiries to suggest such an outcome. The plot justification for the importance Washington's character gives to his enquiry is meant to be personal, he himself has had a tough war and is now teetering on the brink of alcoholism, though this itself is odd as while the rest of the cast all notice this constantly, we virtually never see him drunk (or indeed, taking more than a single drink at a sitting). The incident he is investigating is also peculiar, Ryan's character commands no natural authority but even then the reaction of her troops seems strange. Another contradiction is the way the film appears to want to honour the military, beginning with textbook action scenes and ending with sentimental reverence, in spite of the fact that the soldiers we see in action are all, frankly, pretty bad at their jobs. But a conspiracy thriller needs a bad guy, so top brass is attacked, for the "crime" of wanting to make good PR out of an apparently heroic story, while the troops on the ground are applauded for their incompetence and forgiven their errors. It all makes for a film with a very funny shape, which shows the failings of soldiers but passes up the opportunity to comment on the dehumanising nature of war in favour of commenting on the dehumanising nature of sitting in an office. Far less profound than it thinks.
18 out of 38 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Modern day war story of drama, emotion and deceit
SimonJack24 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
"Courage Under Fire" is a modern war film that has some action segments from the Gulf War. But, it mostly is a drama about what happens to people during war. In this instance, the effects of mistakes, insubordination, cowardice, deceit, selfishness, lack of team support, and the results of confusion and pressure under combat. All of these are part of a fictional story that takes place during the Aug. 1990-Feb. 1991 war and the months afterward. Two separate fictional stories from Desert Storm, the military operation of the war, come together in this film.

It's an engaging story and plot. All of the cast are very good in their roles. The camera work and all production values are excellent. The film isn't a flag-waiver; nor is it anti-military. But it is a good film to show the horrors of war and what can and probably does happen with mistakes. I think it's a good film to show the reality of politics, military order, dedicated career men and women in the military, and the sometimes foibles of command and leadership. It also shows the dark side of human nature that not many war movies show, understandably – in the rebellion, cowardice and self-interest of some GIs.

After Iraq invaded the small Persian Gulf nation of Kuwait in 1990, a United Nations resolution condemned the action. That led to a coalition force of 35 nations to drive the Iraqis out and free Kuwait. The American-led force succeeded in routing the Iraqis to end the Gulf War. The combat operation was called Desert Storm. The two separate stories from Desert Storm come together after the end of the war.

LCol. Nat Serling (Denzel Washington) had commanded an armored group during the war. Enemy tanks infiltrated the American line and began shooting at American tanks. In the frenzy that followed Serling's tank was hit with some small fire, and his group was reporting strikes on the radio. He ordered his gunner to find an enemy target and, when he said he had one, Serling ordered him to shoot. They hit and killed a friendly tank that had veered out of the ranks to try to flank the enemy. The tank commander was a friend of Serling. During this nighttime action, the gunners had difficulty identifying the enemy tanks. So, Serling ordered all the American tanks to turn on their lights, and then to open fire on any tanks that did not have lights. They quickly spotted and killed a number of Iraqi tanks. Serling was shaken by their mistake, and it haunted him. The incident was covered up and his friend was listed as a casualty of enemy fire. But that didn't square it with Serling.

Now in a job at the Pentagon, Serling is given a case to investigate. It's the recommendation of a posthumous Medal of Honor. Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) would be the first woman to receive the award. Serling is to investigate all aspects of her mission and make his recommendation. Walden was the pilot of a rescue helicopter that was hit by enemy fire and crashed. Serling interviews the men of the downed Black Hawk that she went to rescue, and then he tracks down the survivors of her crew. Their stories conflict with those of the Black Hawk crew enough that he probes deeper.

In the course of the film, Serling has flashbacks of his own incident. As he interviews Walden's crew, he gets different detailed stories about her, in flashbacks as told by the different crew members. Serling is under pressure to speed up his investigation so that there can be a major White House event. But his investigation and persistent probing ferrets out the truth about Walden, her actions, and those of her crew. As Serling wraps up the Walden investigation for recognition of a heroic woman, he comes to grips with his own demons. He meets the parents of his friend to tell them that he had fired on their son and killed him. Their reactions are charitable and Serling is able to find peace and return to his wife and children healed of his emotional wounds.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A New Type of War Film for the Nineties
JamesHitchcock29 November 2013
"Courage under Fire" was one of the earliest films about the First Gulf War of 1991. (When the film was made in 1996, that conflict was simply known as the "Gulf War" as the Second did not occur until 2003). Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling, a US Army officer, is assigned to determine whether Captain Karen Walden should posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, making her the first woman to be given this award for valour in combat. Walden, the commander of a Medevac helicopter, was killed while attempting to rescue the crew of another helicopter that had been shot down.

Serling goes about his task of interviewing the survivors of this incident, and at first everything seems to be straightforward, with the witnesses praising Walden's courage and coolness, but he begins to notice inconsistencies between their testimonies. Everything becomes much more complex when another survivor, Sergeant Monfriez, tells him in no uncertain terms that Walden was a coward and blatantly contradicts what the other witnesses have said. Serling then has to decide where the truth lies. A complicating factor is that he himself has been burdened by guilt ever since he was involved in a friendly fire incident during the war in which a friend was killed.

The film was directed by Edward Zwick who was also responsible for "Glory", one of the few great war films of the eighties. "Courage under Fire" represents an interesting development of the war film in the nineties. Although there are exceptions (such as "Catch-22"), most of the very large number of American films about World War II take an unashamedly heroic, patriotic view of that particular conflict. Most of the much smaller number of films about Vietnam take an equally unashamedly pacifist, anti-war position, "The Green Berets" being about the only exception. (Films about Korea tend to fall into both camps. Some, especially those made during or shortly after the war like "The Hunters", take the standard patriotic line. Others take an anti-war stance, notably "M*A*S*H*", which was made during the Vietnam War and has been seen as a disguised film about Vietnam).

"Courage under Fire", by contrast, belongs to that small group of films ("The Red Badge of Courage" about the American Civil War is another good example) which seek to illuminate the soldier's life in wartime without pushing either a strongly patriotic or strongly pacifist message. It also can be seen as belonging to another class of films, those which (like Kurosawa's "Rashomon") attempt to tell a story from several viewpoints and show how the same events can be seen in very different ways by different people.

The confusion of war, in which no person has access to more than a small part of the total picture, makes this method of storytelling seem particularly appropriate to a war film. It was this very confusion which led to Serling giving the order to fire on one of his own tanks in the heat of battle and which leads to some of the inconsistencies in the evidence about how Captain Walden was killed, although it must be said that some of the witnesses are deliberately lying to cover up their own less than honourable behaviour. When the truth finally emerges it becomes clear that Walden was far from being a coward, but also that not all the witnesses who praised her were giving a truthful account of events.

Meg Ryan, Hollywood's official Girl Next Door of the nineties, might have seemed a strange choice to play a tough Army captain, but this was the film which finally showed there was more to Meg's acting talents than the ability to look pretty in romantic comedies. She had tried to show another side to herself in the neo-noir "Flesh and Bone" and the more serious romantic drama "When a Man Loves a Woman", but neither is among her better films. Here, however, she gives a pitch-perfect performance, making Walden tough and determined, but never so much that she becomes unsympathetic. Denzel Washington is also very good as Serling, a very important role as the film is not just about Walden but also about the story of how Serling learns to forgive himself for his friend's death. Of the supporting cast, the best is Lou Diamond Phillips as Monfriez.

Unlike the standard World War II film, "Courage under Fire" is not a gung-ho patriotic adventure story; it remains neutral about the rightness or wrongness of the First Gulf War. Unlike the standard Vietnam movie, however, it is not an anti-war diatribe either. It takes a respectful line on the men and, in this case, women of the US Armed Forces who put their lives on the line for their country and gives us a humane and intelligent look at the difficult circumstances of war. A new type of war film for the nineties. 8/10
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Prismatic Gulf War drama
Lejink21 December 2011
A strong contemporary war drama examining issues of loyalty, protocol, duty and ultimately truth in an unusually constructed film within a film, at the same using multiple viewpoints ( a la "Rashomon" or "Accident") to unfold the complicated truth at its heart. I'm not sure the somewhat contrived structure served the serious subject matter wholly convincingly, the cinematic devices detracting somewhat from the otherwise lifelike depiction of action in the Gulf War.

I also thought Denzel Washington's framing role as the senior army officer given the seemingly straightforward task of reporting on the apparently automatic eligibility of Meg Ryan's posthumous award of the Army medal of honour detracted from the central mystery, especially as he wrestles with his own demons after unwittingly being involved in a tragic friendly-fire incident of his own. So Denz fights the bottle and walks out on his family, before uncovering the truth about Ryan's death and the way back to his own redemption.

This final resolution and the underlying implication that the US Army welcomes openness is firstly too pat and improbable, especially in the wake of some real-life events that have come to light since then. All that said, the dramatisation of the war is very well realised and the acting is of a high order, Washington giving it strong and silent in a commanding lead role, but there are even better performances from a young Matt Damon and Lou Diamond-Phillips as two of Ryan's crew who survive the ordeal physically but not mentally.

Ryan does well too and I was also impressed by the actress in the menial task of playing Washington's wife. Yes, the film ends up as you'd expect, replete with Washington's last respectful visit to Ryan's grave, but there was enough intrigue and grit in the tale to keep me watching throughout. A braver take on the story, inverting some of the discovered truths here might have made for a better film though, but of course there's no way that viewpoint would have been green-lighted in Hollywood.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Does Meg Have The Right Stuff?
bkoganbing2 September 2008
Courage Under Fire is the first major film about the first Gulf War, the one that the first President Bush presided over. It's about men and women in combat and how they handle it. In fact George H.W. Bush, himself a hero from World War II has a peripheral involvement in Courage Under Fire. He actually sets in motion some of the events of this film.

Bronson Pinchot has a small, but really great part as a bootlicking White House aide. The actions of a female army captain and helicopter pilot Meg Ryan saved the lives of several troops though her chopper went down and she died. Unsaid in the film, but no doubt the case, looking for the women's vote in the 1992 election, the White House has taken a personal interest in seeing this female soldier gets a really top drawer decoration, maybe the Congressional Medal of Honor. Pinchot's down at the Pentagon really pushing hard on this case with General Michael Moriarty.

Moriarty assigns Colonel Denzel Washington to investigate the incident with Ryan. Washington's in a bit of jackpot himself, he was involved in a friendly fire incident and though he was innocent, he's waiting to be cleared officially.

Ryan turns out to be as brave a combat soldier this country ever produced of any gender. In fact she was dealing with a whole lot more than anyone of the brass originally thought. In fact that's the story of Courage Under Fire.

Matt Damon got some good reviews on his way up the Hollywood ladder of success as the drug addicted medic from Ryan's team. Lou Diamond Phillips should have been given an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as the chauvinistic sergeant who is quite reluctant to cooperate with Washington's investigation.

Above all this film belongs to Meg Ryan. She breaks type in Courage Under Fire, she becomes a feminist role model for all time in this film. It was quite a change from the romantic parts she usually is cast in. Meg's got the right stuff in abundance here.

Denzel's performance is moving as well. He's getting it from all sides, from the Pentagon who want him to sign off on the report, from his wife, Regina Taylor who sees the stress this and his own situation is putting him in and his own conscience because he wants the report to be honest, fair, and thorough.

Courage Under Fire joins the ranks of great war films and this review is now dedicated to all the women who now serve in combat for the USA to keep us safe and free.
7 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Decent Film But Never Really Sucked Me In
zkonedog12 March 2017
There are two primary reasons why I chose to recently watch this film: First, the fact that Denzel Washington is such an incredible, impassionate actor. Second, that Washington's movies often serve as vehicles to stoke his creative talents. He feeds the script with his passion, and his passion can take a decent story and turn it into an emotional one. However, "Courage Under Fire" failed to hook me in on both of those counts.

Let's begin with the plot: Basically, Denzel plays a former military commander from Desert Storm (with a pretty big skeleton in his closet) who is now in charge of investigating the applicants for the prestigious "Medal of Honor" military award. While researching this particular case, however, "Denzel" stumbles upon a few little inconsistencies that, once they begin to add up, point to a larger cover-up at work. The story is told through the flash-backs of all the people that "Denzel" speaks with while doing his detective work, so to speak. Of course, as is human recollection, each person has a bit of a different "take" on the subject...but is it really just bad memories or something more sinister?

Though that may sound like a very interesting plot, to me it fell flat because it tried to do too many things at one time when it could have just focused on one it two. It tries to be an action picture, but there aren't enough war scenes to justify that characterization. It tries to be a mystery, but that doesn't really work because the viewer never really (at least I didn't) figures out exactly what went on in the central point of conflict. Finally, the film also tries to be a morality play, yet not even that tugs at the heartstrings (not the dramatic ones, at least) since it is so stoic and military-esque in its approach.

Perhaps the biggest failure in this film, though, was the missed opportunities (or maybe it was just bad casting) for Denzel Washington. As a performer, he is at his peak when he is given the opportunity to emote wildly and passionately for a cause he strongly believes in. However, this film takes on such a rigid, non-dramatic tone that Denzel never gets to show that incredible acting style. One only one occasion does he start to get heated, but that approach is quickly squashed and the procedural stuff rolls on.

Thus, I really can't recommend this film to fans of Washington's work, or to fans of military mystery/thrillers. It is just too procedural and droll to really hook you into the whole experience. A 2.5 star rating would have been my optimal choice, but there is just enough solid acting and some compelling material to give it a boost up rather than down.
6 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Powerful Film
consortpinguin28 February 2001
Warning: Spoilers
***** Warning **** Contains spoilers ****

Anyone interest in Desert Storm should see "Courage Under Fire." It is a powerful story with great performances by the whole cast. Denzel Washington really deserved an Oscar for this role, so different than the other major roles he's played such as Malcolm X. What makes the story so compelling is that you see that war is not just a string of heroics, but is fraught with problems and mistakes as in any other occupation. But in war, mistakes can cost lives. We see the loyalty and courage shown by our troops as well as their human failures.

Lt. Col. Serling (Washington), back at the Pentagon after commanding a tank division in the Gulf War, is assigned to investigate whether Capt. Karen Walden, a rescue helicopter pilot killed in action (Meg Ryan) deserves a Congressional Medal of Honor. Serling is deeply troubled by his mistake which caused the death of an old friend. When an unidentified tank appeared in the formation, Serling had to make a split-second decision whether or not to fire. He does, and unfortunately it turns out to be one of ours. His depression affects his whole life, including his family, and he notices that he is drinking too much. His boss, General Hershberg, with whom he also served in Vietnam, tries his best to help Serling get over it.

As Serling interviews the soldiers who flew with Captain Walden, her story is shown in a series of flashbacks. We soon learn that there are major inconsistencies in the stories he hears, some of which imply she was incompetent. Not content to do a superficial job, Serling digs deeper and finds that Capt. Ryan did indeed show leadership and courage, but that her death resulted from another accident caused by the insubordination of one of the men (Lou Diamond Phillips), and covered up by the rest of the crew. Serling now knows that Walden deserves the medal.

**** Contains spoiler ***** In the end, Serling is vindicated when an audio tape of his tank company's battles shows that his quick thinking led to the identification and destruction of another unidentified tank which got into their formation. This time he brilliantly identified it as an Iraqi tank and fired, saving the rest of his tanks from the enemy.

This film shows that war is not glamorous, not all black and white, but shades of gray. This film has some of the best acting you will ever see -- the entire cast gave excellent performances. Cast against typecast, Meg Ryan came across as one tough soldier, a welcome change from all her "cute" roles.

**** Contains spoiler ***** The final scene in which Washington marches up to and salutes Ryan's grave shows Serling's courage, loyalty, and sacrifice without a single word. This is definitely a film worth seeing.
7 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Admirable film with a couple of standout performances
vincentlynch-moonoi28 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Just for the record, at least here on IMDb, I think this is an underrated film. And I say that as a person who very rarely likes movies about the military. My dad was in the military most of his adult life, and when he would come home on leave he would always drag me to some war film. I hated it. So, I rarely watch a war movie. But this is a keeper.

First, the cast. And let me review the actors in the order of how impressive they were in this film. Denzel Washington, as a Lieutenant Colonel investigating whether a dead female captain should receive the Medal Of Honor, and who himself may have been involved in friendly fire deaths, and who has an alcohol problem, is excellent. Lou Diamond Phillips, as a Staff Sergeant who was at the helicopter crash where the female soldier was killed, is superb here (I never knew he was such a hunk...just for the record). Regina Taylor, as the wife of Washington, is excellent! Meg Ryan, the helicopter pilot who dies, is good, but although her role is pivotal, this is not a very good showcase of her talents, and I do not see her here as the co-star to Denzel Washington. I found Matt Damon rather unimpressive here, but of course, this was just before his breakthrough role that immediately followed this film. Bronson Pinchot was an interesting choice as a White House aide, and he does okay. Michael Moriarty is good as a Brigadier General, as is Scott Glenn as a Washington Post reporter.

While I can't say whether or not the Iraq battle scenes were realistic, they impressed me.

Despite some inconsistencies, I think the story is a good one. And not a simple one, since the issues that Denzel Washington's character has are complicating his investigation of whether or not Ryan's character should receive the Medal Of Honor. Washington does an admirable job of mixing all these factors and fleshing out the character traits of his role. In fact, this was one of Washington's early films which convinced me that he was an actor that America should treasure.

Despite a few flaws, highly recommended.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Just wasn't that powerful or moving
KineticSeoul25 December 2010
Okay so the main reason why I decided to see this movie is cause Edward Zwick directed it since I liked "The Last Samurai". Much better film than "Avatar" hands down. This is one of those feel good movies and that is fine, but it's just not that gripping or touching for that matter. The plot is basically about Nat Serling(Denzel Washington) who is Lt Col a Desert Storm veteran that is going through a guilt trip for accidentally killing one of the guy on his team. And while this is going on he is assigned a task to investigate if Capt Karen Walden(played by Meg Ryan) deserves a medal of honor, since she would be the first woman to receive it. But there is some sort of conspiracy and things just keep getting deeper and deeper. So yeah it's one of those patriotic feel good movies, but I found most of it dull and sort of boring. It just wasn't a very interesting film, I didn't even think the film left a big impact or was that powerful as some reviewers claim it to be. It just didn't seem to worth that much in the end and felt like it was mainly about American heroism but just wasn't that powerful.

6 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed